Chase grew up on a dairy farm in West Newbury, Massachusetts. Though he had no interest in cows beyond riding on their backs as they came in for milking, he was very interested in birds of all kinds and the aspect of flight. He raised parakeets, pigeons, and chickens, and read everything he could find at the local library on how things fly. Sometimes he would tie a rope from his belt to a tree branch and swing as if he was superman.
Chase's mother had left at an early age which resulted in him and his older sister having to manage the house and make the meals while their father worked the farm. Chase found he liked following recipes and coming up with creative spins on food. He chose to go to a trade school during his high school years and studied culinary arts. His first jobs in his youth were in the food industry which included everything from waiting tables, washing dishes, and line cook, to decorating cakes and making donuts in the middle of the night.
Having an interest in health, Chase later decided to return to school to pursue a career in nursing. He loved the opportunities that are available to people with medical training, and has worked in areas such as emergency, ICU, hospice, and even a jail. Currently he is employed per diem at Frisble Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NH in the surgical department.
After meeting Jason, Chase found his life coming full circle to where he started. He is back to living on a farm, raising birds (turkeys) and creating recipes for their growing specialty food business. In addition, he is finally seeing his dream of flight come to pass. In June, Chase began paragliding lessons at Morningside Flight Park in Charlestown, NH. Soon he will be enjoying the serenity of silent flight.
Jason grew up on his parents dairy and vegetable farm in Dayton, ME. He learned many aspects of farming from his parents as well as both his maternal and paternal grandparents who had farmed in Dayton. 4-H and showing the family's dairy cows were also an integral part of learning more about agriculture. Showing cows taught him the rewards of hard work and his quest for knowledge continued in dairy quiz bowl competitions and dairy judging events from Maine to Louisville, KY and Toronto. Jason then earned his degrees in dairy science at SUNY Colbeskill and VA Tech.
Jason and his twin brother Keith started raising some vegetables in 1984 to sell on a picnic table in front of the farm house. Today, Harris Farm owned by Jason's parents and oldest brother Clint and his wife Rachel have over 30 acres of vegetables as well as dairy and beef cows. Keith branched out to start a corn maze and wedding barn venue also in Dayton.
Jason bought a house in Newfield in 2013 with 3.25 acres of land that used to have a few cows and horses, that same year he met Chase and as they say, "the rest is history." The house and property needed lots of work that they weren't afraid to tackle. Jason has been a territory sales manager for Blue Seal Feeds covering Maine, eastern NH, and the Canadian Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) for 17 years. Blue Seal Feeds is a livestock grain company that started in Lawrence Massachusetts in 1868! This year, Blue Seal Feeds is celebrating 150 years in business and is still made in New England and a family owned company. During Jason's time with Blue Seal he developed an interest to educate people in raising backyard poultry. During its peak, Jason's seminars would reach an estimated 300-500 people each year about raising backyard poultry. He has studied with the New England Applied Poultry Science group to further educate his knowledge of nutritional needs, diseases, facilities, and processing. Jason was gifted a dozen broad breasted white turkeys by one of his feed stores in 2014. This was the start of their turkey business. The first year, the turkeys were raised for family and friends. In 2015, Jason and Chase decided to raise turkeys on pasture instead of mowing the back field. Currently, most of the turkeys grown at Harris Turkey Farm are used to make pot pies, soups, and chili. They do sell a few fresh for Thanksgiving, but enjoy the more year round aspect of the value added products from the commercial kitchen they built in 2017.
Maybe the next hobby Jason will seek out is drone photography. There is always something new to learn regardless of how old you are. Technology will continue to develop and new electronics will make it easier to capture that unique picture.
Aerial predators can also be a problem. Hawks will hunt during the day, and owls hunt at night. While we don't cover our large pastures for the adult birds (knock on wood, we haven't had a problem) we do have a cover for the outside pen attached to the nursery. We allow the young poults to go out of the nursery at 3 weeks old, and move them back inside in the evening. We have had a coopers hawk sitting on top trying to figure out how he was going to get a young poult. In the adult pasture, we reseed the pasture in the spring with a variety of plants like millet, oat, rye, and sunflower. the tall plants provide shade from the heat, visual protection from aerial predators, as well as house bugs for them to eat. They soon eat most of the vegetation, and by then, are too big for a hawk or owl.
Dogs can be a deterrent, but can also be the predator. We researched breeds and determined a doberman was what we wanted as a predator deterrent. They are very smart, loyal, and friendly. Still, Lexi definitely knows the difference between a friend and foe, and is not afraid to drive off unwelcome visitors.
At Harris Turkey Farm, one thing we truly strive for is giving our animals a good quality life. We want them clean, comfortable, and have minimal stress. In order to attain this, there are several things we do. First, we considered the amount of space we would need for the turkeys. If you have ever seen pictures of commercial poultry farms, you know the animals are packed in tight. The goal is to produce quantity. Unfortunately, the quality of the animal's life suffers. The recommended area for turkeys is 4-6 Sq. Ft. per bird. That does not happen in the commercial industry. Our pastures are 5300 Sq. Ft. with a maximum of 100 birds in the pasture. That is 53 Sq. Ft. per bird. If you are raising a few chickens or turkeys, it does not require a large area to ensure they have ample space to move about. Your birds will be happier and healthier for your efforts. You may want to consider having a "chicken tractor," which is a mobile pen. It can be moved every few days with the birds right inside. They will have fresh grass and bugs with each move, and your lawn or field gets fertilized. The picture above "Beginning of the season" was the second year for that pasture. Prior to having turkeys in there that particular piece of land was almost barren. The soil is predominantly gravel with little to no organic matter. The millet in that picture is 18-24 inches tall in just a few weeks after planting. The soil has been improved tremendously by having turkeys on it.
We prepare the pasture prior to the arrival of our birds. As you can see by the pictures, turkeys completely consume the vegetation in a pasture by the end of the season. This is a wonderful thing. The bugs and plants compliment their diet, and the act of picking and grazing stimulates them, and helps prevent boredom so they are not picking at each other. But this also requires effort by the farmer to prepare the pasture. In the spring, plow or rototill your pasture so manure from the previous year is ground into the soil, then seed your pasture with things such as rye, canary seed, oats, millet, and sunflower. We like to get a 50 pound bag of birdseed and sow that into the soil. The growing plants will also provide shade from the sun, and cover from overhead predators while the poults are small.
A couple additional things to consider as you raise poultry outside are predators and diseases. We will discuss both in depth in a future blog. Free ranging is an option but predators can be very sneaky even when you are in the yard with your poultry. You don't have to provide a roost, we like to because that is their natural habit in the evening. I find it also keeps them away from the edge of the fencing where a predator could reach through and grab them.
Springtime in Maine often comes with lots of new arrivals. Whether you are buying young livestock or they are born on your farm, you need to keep them warm, clean, and free from drafts. With day old turkeys (called poults) and chicks, they need to be kept in a warm brooder, at 95 degrees for the first week. We use a securely fastened heat lamp for every 25 birds. If they are warm enough, they will be spread out and look content. If they are too cold, you will find them piled up together. The danger in this is the weaker ones get smothered and you begin to find dead chicks. We use the infrared 250 watt bulbs. Lower watts may not be enough heat, and the red color calms the chicks. The harsh, white light bulbs can increase agitation and squabbling.
You will also want to make sure to have several different sizes of feeders and watering stations available. When they are small you need them in an area where they can reach the feeding and watering stations. As the poults and chicks grow they need more space to eat and drink, and will need larger capacity feeders.
You can decrease the temperature by 5 degrees weekly by raising the height of the heat lamps until they are ready to go outside. Generally, in the springtime this will be when they are 4 weeks old and they are fully feathered. You can certainly let them free range, but only do so when you are there to supervise them because a predator can sneak in and take one or more. We keep the young turkeys in a fenced in area covered with chicken wire to keep any aerial birds of prey out. We have had a hawk in the spring sitting on the outdoor run looking for its next meal but the 1 inch chicken wire over the top prevented that. While chickens will usually return to their coop for the night, turkeys will not. For their own protection, young turkeys must be put inside for the night until they are large enough to go to the main pasture and be outside full time.